Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is a very bad man named Joseph Kony, who has spent the better part of 3 decades implementing massive human rights violations including, but not limited to, the recruitment of child soldiers. He is one of the most wanted criminals on the roster of the International Criminal Courts. In spite of this, he has yet to be caught and held by authorities of any sort.
But fear not, dear netizens. We, the USA, know EXACTLY how to fix this problem: With some hot suburban white kid action! We, the 15-30 year old demographic, can fix all such ills by using the internet to express some righteous anger. In this way, we can make it SEEM like we make a difference under the guise of awareness, all without having to do any real work outside of plastering a few posters or wearing a bracelet. Imagine that – just clicking a few links while eating your favorite brand of junk food, and you too can feel better about yourself, all the while promoting that wholesome image of the West and its selfless, genteel residents coming to save yet another helpless African nation!
Sarcastic rants aside; I must admit that my most immediate thoughts regarding the recent spike in popularity for the KONY 2012 movement went something along the lines of, “You HAVE to be shitting me.” And I, like many people peeved by this movement’s surge in publicity, have my reasons.
One of my primary complaints? This movement effectively ignores the fact that once this monster is arrested, the problems of Uganda will be far from over. There WILL be a power vacuum because – gasp – there is a HUGE block of recent history that allowed this man to wield power in the first place. And no, my friends, you can’t find it in a 25 minute YouTube clip. Simply put, arresting the current ringleader doesn’t do anything to curb the likelihood of another equally ambitious individual taking the reins. Mind you, in no way am I saying this man should not be arrested – he is a war criminal of over 25 years and far overdue for quality time in a jail cell. However, simply convincing ourselves that his arrest will solve every problem this region has is both ludicrous and self-serving. And from a historical perspective, it’s what’s allowed us to comfortably distance ourselves from any fallout associated with our involvement in regions in which we intervene (Cue references to that ugly business with the Shah of Iran, popular support for the Mujahedeen in the 1980s, SE Asia post-Vietnam, etc.). Thus, in framing this dialogue in the language of one strict, short-term goal, we effectively remove ourselves from any responsibility for follow-through after the fact and further the image of the West as that of a colonial power to be distrusted. Regardless of if it’s done via federal government or an NGO – it sends the same message to the people left to navigate the mess.
Speaking of those millions of souls – One can only imagine how they feel about the fact that campaigns like these completely ignore the tireless work done by the very people living here to stop the atrocities that surround them – people like Betty Bigombe, who have been going about this process for decades, risking their lives on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, the work of people like these – people who live there, in the proverbial trenches – is the work that does the most good, yet gets the least attention. Make no mistake – the people of Invisible Children have done a good job in raising awareness of this issue in our neck of the woods, and I genuinely believe they have only the best of intentions. But at the end of the day, a few white guys backpacking through Uganda with a video camera does nothing for sustainable efforts for change. Instead of educating the public on why these events are happening in this location, or how to help enable successful grassroots efforts to do more, this approach ultimately boils down a hugely complex conflict (one so closely related to ‘Africa’s World War’, at that) to dangerously simple “truths” so that an impatient and uninformed audience will absorb the message presented more readily. And with all of this attention on our shiny new fad, the media saturation takes away the spotlight and associated resources from those best equipped to educate and affect change. Namely, because they are taking into consideration the very things that those living thousands of miles away in the comfort of hipster-friendly suburbia do not, and unlike said would-be good Samaritans, they have the trust of the people around them.
And finally, that point which I so smartass-ily brought up in the beginning of this glorious rant: We really have to stop presenting the nations of the Global South in such a condescending light. I can guarantee you that not one of them really needs a sympathetic White Savior to sweep in and rescue them. If we here really want to help, perhaps a little time to educate ourselves on what has allowed this conflict to fester would be useful - or, if we’re feeling REALLY ambitious, to do something in terms of economic or societal sanctions. For starters, perhaps we could consider how our very economic decisions and consumer trends directly affect the politics and associated conflicts of Central Africa (Yes, darling children, this includes Uganda).
I could go on about various other issues regarding Invisible Children, Inc. as an organization, its approaches, and other issues, but I’ll spare you another page of reading. For a few of them, I leave you uno, dos, tres, and my favorite, cuatro.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.